Walkabout historically refers to a rite of passage during which Indigenous male Australians would undergo a journey during adolescence, typically ages 10 to 16, and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months to make the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood. Walkabout has come to be referred to as "temporary mobility" because its original name has been used as a derogatory term in Australian culture, demeaning its spiritual significance.
The term "walkabout" is commonly used to characterize indigenous Australian people as highly mobile over the short-term. Such movement is considered problematic for mainstream health care and housing programs.
In the case of Indigenous Australia, life-cycle stages, such as traditional rites of passage, seem to influence the motivations for movement more than the frequency of movement. But non-aboriginal employers did not fully understand the abrupt leaving and returning as a valid reason for missing work. The reasons for leaving may be more mundane than originally thought: workers who wanted or needed to attend a ceremony or visit relatives did not accept employers' control over such matters.
"Temporary mobility" refers to any nomadic lifestyle that does not establish a permanent residence and includes a significant amount of movement for religious observance. Young adults have the highest mobility rate of all age groups in Australia; males make up the majority of the rate. Youth is the time of the traditional "walkabout" rite of passage, which marks the transition into adulthood.
Mobility as a topic of research is difficult to track and measure. In present research, professionals have identified technology as being a factor of current mobility in young adults in Australia. However, no formal, sound research has been conducted on this subject matter specifically. The lack of female presence in research results has determined that Australian women participate in the national census less than their male counterparts leading to the underrepresentation of women in mobility research. This underrepresentation in research is due to the fact that most mobility research relies highly on the census as its primary form of data collection. The Australian census occurs on one night nationally, the occurrence of the census makes it difficult to track mobility as does the finding that women in Australia are typically out of their usual residence at night, also leading to the underrepresentation of women in research.
Currently, any form of government statistical measures are not able to provide any detailed indication of the frequency, volume, or direction of Indigenous temporary mobility. They are unable to provide any sort of consistent statistics for the frequency in which the indigenous aboriginals travel make any previous statistics out of date. Although mobility has been a central feature of Indigenous lived experience for thousands of years, non-Indigenous attempts to understand and conceptualize it through time have been unsuccessful as well as being few and far between.
Indigenous temporary mobility practices remain poorly understood within mainstream Australian society. They are often explained away as simply the product of a nomadic predisposition to wander aimlessly. A general lack in understanding of Walkabout, or temporary mobility, on the direction, purpose, length of the trip, those that participate, and the activities that take place on the trip has grown substantially over time, creating some friction between aboriginal Australian residents participating in Walkabout and those that are not. Walkabout takes place with the intent of the boy taking the journey to becoming a man, in addition to enlightenment, healing and a spiritual awakening of those on the walkabout.
This lack of understanding and the friction led to the term "walkabout" being used in a derogatory manner and being used to explain unplanned and unexplainable trips in the Outback. Those that participate in walkabout, typically aboriginals from the Outback areas, have been labelled as transients, nomads, or drifters. These movements are often mystifying for the general public of non-aboriginal Australian’s because they appear unplanned and unpredictable in duration. The mystifying nature of walkabout and temporary mobility in the indigenous has led to the negative connotation of their travels. Walkabout can be used to imply a kind of aimless and erratic wandering off into the unknown to those that do not fully understand its true meaning in the aboriginal spirituality and faith.
The potential rise for the complexity of temporary mobility of traditional origins within modernization is prevalent in current Australian society for the transition of indigenous cultures from traditional activities toward modernity has given rise to growing recognition of the importance of traditional practices. The idea that there may be other more contemporary factors in temporary mobility alters the course of research conducted.
The explanation for indigenous temporary mobility in and around remote Australia is due to the strong spiritual ties of the indigenous people to the land of the Outback. With modernization occurring all across Australia, walkabout will occur in more remote areas such as the outback to create a break from modern culture in order to create a connection with traditional, spiritual roots. Interior Australia (Outback) witnesses temporary mobility in those areas due to the lack of permanent residents in those areas. The spiritual attachment of aboriginals to the land of the Outback was a strong, unbreakable force that rooted social groups within their traditional territories.
Aboriginal Australians make up the majority of the population in the Outback up to 90% in some areas. The Outback covers more than three quarters of Australia’s landmass. Indigenous temporary mobility is characterized by familial and cultural obligations and conflicts. It is intentionally confined to Australian territories of ancestral belonging, typically in the Outback. These periods of mobility are typically ceremonial. These periods of mobility are unrelated to and often unseen by mainstream Australia not of aboriginal, indigenous beliefs. They often reflect and show disinterest in, or alienation from, the state.
The physical geography of the Australian Outback has fundamentally shaped indigenous socio-spatial organization and thus mobility practices. Due to low population density and the uncharted aura of these areas it is not surprising that the Outback is the typical home to walkabout for aboriginals have ancestral ties to the land. For indigenous people in Central Australia, mobility is embedded in cultural practice as people’s ceremonial journeys—Walkabout—followed dreaming tracks that linked sacred sites. These sites are often water sources or resource-rich places and are becoming important economically as well as spiritually.